He is the driving force behind David Walliams’ swim of the English Channel and
River Thames, Eddie Izzard’s 43 marathons in 50 days and Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole’s
climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
He’s a former Olympic pentathlete, professor of applied sport and exercise science, director at the Centre For Health and Human Performance in Harley Street and recent recipient of an OBE for his services to sport, sport science and charity. He is Greg Whyte, and when he isn’t pushing his body to sadistic extremes or inspiring students at Liverpool John Moores University he resides in Marlow Bottom just across the street from Sir Steve Redgrave.
Less than two weeks ago the father-of-three emerged victorious from his latest Sport Relief challenge with Davina McCall, a 500-mile expedition from London to Edinburgh involving running, swimming and cycling. Davina, who had never swam more than 25 metres before, trained with Greg for less than three months and in the process the pair raised £760,000 for charity. They cycled 130 miles on day one, front-crawled their way across Lake Windermere, climbed Scafell Pike and finished with a full marathon. You’d think his efforts might have earned him a holiday. But there’s no rest for the 46-year-old who is already warming-up his next Sport Relief stars for what has been named Battle of The Backsides.
Greg said: “I am working with Alan Shearer and Robbie Savage.” … “They are going to sit down in every seat in Wembley Stadium.” The footballers will race to be the first to sit on half of the stadiums seat, 45,000 each, a daunting task estimated to take them four-and-a-half days. Although opting out of joining the lads for the squat Greg, a the Luton Town FC fan, will prepare them for the task both physically and psychologically.
Greg has worked on every Sport Relief challenge since 2006, in a voluntary role, after being recommended for the job by Olympian pal Steve Cram. He comes with the idea for the challenge, picks the celebrity and sorts out the logistics which in the case of Davina took eight months of planning.
“We are diminishing the number of people we can select,” said Greg who puts Robbie Williams at the top of his A-lister wish-list he’s yet to work with. “The personality must be someone the public can engage with immediately in order to make as much money as possible.”
Despite the pain and often monotony of the challenges, he relishes the adrenaline and seeing the most unlikely of candidates excelling at something they never thought possible. “My reward comes in their success,” said Greg, a member of The Marlow Club and husband to Penny, a former PE teacher who can’t help but hide her anxiety before her spouse takes off on an yet another extraordinary challenge. And Greg doesn’t pretend it isn’t tough, reflecting on his swim with Walliams, now a great friend and godparents to his children, as hardest of them all. He said: “At times it was gruelling and monotonous. We forget how difficult it was.”… “But it is not my job to ever think they won’t do it.”
Despite the long-hours, physical hardship and time away from his children, who are two, five and eight, he won’t be giving it up any time soon. The veteran of the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games said: “In the darkest hours there are always moments of fun.”
“On Davina’s challenge we were three quarters of the way across Lake Windermere.”… “One of my jobs was to make sure she wasn’t hypothermic, so she needed to make an immediate and understandable response.
“I asked her are you cold?”… “Her immediate response was ‘of course I’m flipping cold’….”I knew then she was fine.”
And she was, just, as video footage shows Davina being dragged out from the lake after collapsing from exhaustion, although it failed to deter her from completing the challenge. Next time Greg says he would love to do something which involves rowing, a homage to Marlow and his oar-loving neighbour.
He added: “People ask me why I do it and I say it’s because we have raised over £20m.” … “Sport Relief is huge commitment of time and energy but I love it and as long as I continue to love it I will keep doing it.”
Maidenhead Advertiser, The man behind the Sport Relief challenges: An interview with Greg Whyte. [Lucy Golding | 27 February 2014].